The men’s cooking pot Hungarian kettle

The men’s cooking pot Hungarian kettle

It’s not a museum piece, nor is it an ethnographic rarity, but an item of everyday use in Hungary: the kettle. It holds the bubbling paprikás at the wine harvest, simmers the golden meat soup cooked at weddings, and Hungarians gather around it in friends’ gardens or when camping.

Hungarian kettle_2Cooking in a kettle is men’s work. Although the kitchen is traditionally held to be the women’s domain, there have been many excellent male Hungarian cooks – especially among those who were otherwise occupied with hard physical work – even when the roles were shared more conventionally than they are today. Herdsmen who were often away from home for weeks on end, living in the Puszta, as well as farmers and laborers, who worked in the fields and vineyards from dawn to sunset, were perfectly capable of providing themselves with a hot meal.

These men had only a limited choice of ingredients. They prepared their meals almost “on the side” while carrying out their other duties. This meant that they had little time to refine their culinary talents, and so the dishes that were cooked in the vast kettles were very plain and simple. These are, however, ideal conditions for the ingredients to develop their true character: fish remains fish, pasta tastes of pasta, and the beef retains its aroma. This is highly typical of Hungarian cuisine: it allows the flavors of the individual ingredients to “speak for themselves,” and does not appreciate any fancy touches that conceal their true nature.

Kettlelike cooking pots were the norm among earlier peoples, and nomads and semi-nomads all over the world made similar items. However, the Magyars, who came from the Asian steppes 1100 years ago and moved into the Carpathian Basin, were already using clay pots that differed from similar vessels used by other peoples – much to the delight of archeologists, since these help to trace the wanderings of the Magyars.

Hungarian kettle_1The Hungarian kettle, which is used without a lid, is available in two different styles. One is compact with a wide base, and is the preferred choice for pörkölt dishes. The other version, which is taller and narrower, and tapers toward the top, allows the aroma of the fish soup to develop more fully.

One thing they both have in common is the handle, which, as with all buckets, is a semicircle attached at opposite sides of the kettle. It is not just used for holding the kettle, but also for hanging it over an open fire. The kettle can be suspended from a protruding tree branch or hung on a tripod.